EMPOWER Study Update

22nd November 2018

A year into her post, Helen Whitehill, Research Assistant for the University of Glasgow EMPOWER Study, gives us a project update and insight into her work.

EMPOWER is a randomised controlled trial that is testing the feasibility of a Peer supported mobile phone application (App) to promote self-monitoring and self-management for people who have experienced psychosis. EMPOWER stands for Early signs Monitoring to Prevent relapse in psychosis and prOmote Wellbeing, Engagement and Recovery and that is what we stand for too. We hope that the EMPOWER intervention will support choice, empowerment, personal recovery and the prevention of relapse.

EMPOWER is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in the UK and the National Health Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia. The study is taking place across two sites, Glasgow and Melbourne. The Scottish Recovery Network is a key partner on the study, which means they play a role in designing, planning and implementing and understanding the outcomes the study.

One of our most significant challenges was, to our knowledge, to be the first mental health App to go through the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) review process. Going through this process means that the EMPOWER App is registered as a Medical Device and the conduct of the trial is carefully monitored to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our participants. This marks a step in the right direction for research into mental health Apps. We received approval to proceed in September 2017, and it was only then could we start recruitment.

Recruitment was a massive effort, here in Glasgow but also in Melbourne and took place between October 2017 and June 2018. We worked very closely with six Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs) across Glasgow and two in Melbourne. We achieved our target of 86 participants taking part across both sites; with 16 informal carers also consented to take part.

My role in the study has been to recruit and retain participants into the study. A key part of my role was to discuss the research with mental health staff to help them identify potential participants who might be eligible to take part. I found that many staff could be enthusiastic about the research. However, many could be sceptical about the research, especially about the role of Mobile Apps to support recovery in people with psychosis. I learned how to combine determination with diplomacy and adaptability to help us achieve our recruitment targets. I found ways of explaining the study in a manner that made it accessible and interesting to those who had never taken part in research. During meetings with potential participants I have been very careful to explain the study in a way that supports participants in being able to decide whether or not they wish to take part. I have been surprised by how diverse the people were that were interested in taking part. People of all ages and experience have got involved. There are participants who were very tech ‘savvy’ as well as others who have a never used a smart phone before.

The trial is now well and truly underway. All participants are now set up with the App and Peer Support is ongoing. The other Research Assistants and I are now carrying out follow up visits with participants. It’s great to continue to see people and find out how they are doing.

Find out more about the study on the EMPOWER website and get regular updates on the progress. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter